Since moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation at the outset of the 2012 season, right-hander Chris Bassitt has risen from a little-known 16th-round draft pick to a legitimate candidate for a major league rotation spot. Bassitt is excited about his opportunity with the Oakland A’s this spring, but he acknowledges that if he had his druthers, he’d be competing for a spot in the bullpen rather than the rotation.
It’s a rare pitcher who prefers the bullpen to the rotation, but Bassitt feels that pitching in relief fits his aggressive mentality on the mound better than starting games.
“Honestly, whatever they need and whatever they want, I’m lucky I can do both,” Bassitt said last week during a post-FanFest media session. “My mentality is more of a reliever mentality. The White Sox were able to change that into a starter’s mentality, but at the same time, like I said, whatever they need.”
Bassitt enjoys the rush of coming into a game knowing that he has maybe 20 pitches to throw to get his job done. He likes coming right after hitters and daring them to hit his best stuff.
“With starting, it’s a lot more that you have to establish sequences, you have to establish pitches,” Bassitt said. “That’s why I like relieving because you have 12 to 15 pitches and you say ‘here’s my best 12-to-15 pitches, good luck.’ But it is what it is, but whatever they need, I can do.”
Bassitt will be one of several pitchers with big league experience competing for a spot in the A’s rotation this spring. Given the depth the A’s have in their starting rotation, he could end up in the bullpen when all is said and done.
Regardless of where Bassitt fits into the A’s pitching staff in 2015, Oakland is excited about what Bassitt brings to the mound. The 6’5’’ right-hander has a nasty pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball that can touch 96 and sits in the 90-93 MPH range, a hard sinker that he uses to induce groundballs, a hard slider, a curveball and a change-up. Bassitt utilizes a three-quarter arm slot that gives his pitches extra movement and makes it difficult for hitters to pick-up his release point.
Bassitt prides himself on his competitive nature and points to that as the key to his success on the mound.
“I hate to lose almost more than anyone,” Bassitt said. “Forget the stuff and everything else, it’s how hard I compete. I pride myself on that.”
Bassitt, who turns 26 in a few days, came to the A’s this off-season as part of the package of players the Chicago White Sox sent to the A’s for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. The Ohio native was a 16th-round pick of the White Sox in 2011 out of the University of Akron. A reliever exclusively in college, Bassitt spent his pro debut season coming out of the bullpen, but he was moved to the starting rotation in 2012. Bassitt had a breakthrough campaign in 2013 when he posted a 3.08 ERA in a career-high 149 innings split between High-A and Double-A. He struck-out 139, walked 59 and had a 43.6% groundball rate. That fall, Bassitt pitched in the Arizona Fall League, raising his profile even further with 10 innings of 0.90 ERA pitching.
In 2014, Bassitt looked poised to challenge for a mid-season spot in the Chicago White Sox’s rotation. A finger injury delayed those plans until September, however. Bassitt missed a significant portion of the season with the finger injury, making only six starts in Double-A and three rehab outings in the Arizona Rookie League. Bassitt pitched well in his time at Double-A, posting a 1.56 ERA in 34 innings. He struck-out 36 and walked 14.
Despite the missed time during the regular season, Bassitt showed the White Sox enough to earn him a call-up late in the season. He joined the White Sox rotation on August 30 and made six starts for Chicago. In 29.2 innings, Bassitt posted a 3.94 ERA with 21 strike-outs and 13 walks. One of his best starts came against the A’s in Chicago on September 10. In that game, he allowed just one run in six innings. He struck-out five and walked two. The White Sox eventually won that game, 2-1, when they rallied to score twice off of Luke Gregerson in the eighth inning.
Bassitt says that his best friend called him after that start against the A’s to say that he looked “more like an A’s player than a White Sox player” in that game.
“It was a running joke with my best friend back home,” Bassitt said. “He said, ‘you look like one of those guys.’ I threw that off to the side, and of course, I got traded and he sent me a text like, ‘I told you so.’ I was like ‘you were right.’”
Bassitt’s season continued into the fall, as the White Sox sent him to the Arizona Fall League once again so he could make up some of the innings he lost to the finger injury. Bassitt dominated in the AFL, allowing one run in 13 innings. He struck-out 22, walked three and allowed nine hits.
All told, Bassitt finished the season with 86 innings pitched. While dealing with the finger injury was frustrating, Bassitt says ultimately that missed time last year may give him a leg up going into 2015.
“Actually, looking back on it, I’m happy with everything that happened,” Bassitt said. “Usually I got into spring training the past couple of years and I’m really, really worn down and being like ‘okay, let’s get back into it.’ This year, with the injury last year that limited my innings, it’s a blessing in disguise, to say the least. I’m very well prepared going into this year.”
Bassitt will have plenty of competition for a spot on the A’s 25-man roster this spring. He will join Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Hahn, Barry Zito, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Arnold Leon and Brad Mills as candidates for the A’s starting rotation. Bassitt also figures to factor into the A’s bullpen competition. He is anxious to get his A’s career going and is looking forward to learning about the AL West.
“It’s a little bit of a whirlwind, but it’s exciting,” Bassitt said. “I have been up and down the East Coast, so being out West, change of scenery, is a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to that.”